Here’s the thing about relationship advice: most of the time, it’s not much help.
Relationship advice has become a genre of writing unto itself, and that’s largely because relationship advice is almost impossible to get right. Almost every year, it seems like there’s some new, crucial piece of advice being thrown around to help lovelorn people find their soulmates; and, like clockwork, it’s replaced the following year by the next crucial piece of advice.
Think about it this way: if someone really had figured out the secret to dating, then the only single people would be people who want to be single. Obviously, that’s not the case; otherwise, relationship advice columns wouldn’t exist anymore. Here are a few reasons why relationship advice is usually worthless.
They Don’t Want To Hear It
Take it from me: people are stubborn. If you disagree, stop reading now because I hate you and you’re wrong so shut up.
Think about a time when you were really struggling with something and someone came up and started telling you all the stuff you were doing wrong. Even if they were completely correct, you were more annoyed than grateful, right? Of course you were – nobody appreciates advice they didn’t ask for.
Tons of advice columns do this: “Stop X Behavior,” or “Why Y Attitude Is Ruining Your Dating Life.” In essence, they make people feel shitty about being single, even though odds are those people already feel shitty enough. The same goes for in-person advice: “You need to do [this thing],” or “I did [that thing] and now look how happy I am!”
Everybody Is Different
Another problem with relationship advice is that it tries to offer a universal solution to an individual problem. If everybody was the same, then whatever advice worked for one person would automatically work for everyone else.
Not only that, but relationship advice often assumes that the person receiving it wants a very specific kind of relationship. But what people want out of a relationship varies – some people want a partner who shares all their interests, others want someone who can expand their own interests; some people want to spend every waking minute with their partner, while others value their independence and their alone time.
A one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work, because it’s not just about the relationship itself, it’s about how you feel within the relationship.
It Sets Unrealistic Expectations
Dating advice also tends to set unrealistic expectations. Articles like “Do This Thing To Meet The Guy of Your Dreams,” or “10 Surefire Ways To Get That Girl’s Number” are selling readers a promise on which they can’t possibly deliver.
At its most harmless, useless dating advice just leads to disappointed people (and potentially some very exasperated attractive people who have to deal with some variation of the same stupid pickup attempt, but they’re attractive so they’ll get over it). But it can also be toxic: telling that this one weird trick will help them meet the person of their dreams sounds great in theory, but when it doesn’t work, that person is going to be even more demoralized than they were before.
Telling Doesn’t Work
An article from Psychology Today found that giving people advice hardly ever works. It’s mostly because of the reasons I outlined above; namely, that people are less likely to listen to advice they didn’t ask for. Psychologically speaking, humans are experiential learners, which means we tend to be much more successful at adopting a certain behavior if we see it in action than we are if we’re just told the theory of that behavior.
Take driving, for example. Someone could write down every single thing you need to know about driving a car, and you could study it for months on end until you know all the steps like the back of your hand. But you’re not going to really know how to drive a car until you experience it yourself.
If you really want to learn how to have happy, successful relationships, the best way to do it is by trial and error. Over time, you’ll get the hang of it.
It Sucks The Fun Out of Dating
Here’s the biggest problem: Dating advice columns suck the mystery out of dating. Once upon a time, the only way people could navigate the dating world was by being in the dating world. Nowadays, though, you can do months of research to prepare exactly what to say in every situation imaginable, if you happen to be a psychopath.
It’s like watching a movie with the subtitles on, only the subtitles are just a little bit ahead of the dialogue and it spoils what everyone’s about to say. There’s something to be said about embracing the unknown when it comes to dating, but every piece of dating advice that exists means that there’s one less thing to surprise us.
In the end, the only way to get “good” at dating is to date. You can read all you want, but you’ll learn more from one good date – or, hell, even from a bad one – than you could in studying a lifetime’s worth of advice.
(*Note: None of this applies to my advice, which is impeccable and should be implicitly trusted and accepted without question.)